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White respondents are most likely to think that tertiary education is not necessary in order to be a successful entrepreneur; Africans are least likely to think that. All races believe that there are many opportunities in their major field of study and African respondents are the most positive about this. African, Coloured and Asian respondents feel that it is too expensive to start one's own business. But African respondents are much more aware than Whites, Coloureds and Asians of state programmes that provide assistance to small business starters and they also feel more positive about the investment climate in South Africa.

One may consider that students in different degree programmes have differing perceptions of entrepreneurship.

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To establish whether this is the case the paper breaks down the results into degree of study. Table 5 lists the means for the forty variables by degree of study. Once again significance is more complicated and is only noted if respondents differ at the 5 per cent level.

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MBA respondents differ markedly from the rest of the respondents. This may have something to do with their age and race as well as the fact that, unlike the majority of undergraduate respondents, MBA respondents have already obtained professional work experience. Most of the MBA respondents are White and considerably older.

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They seem to have stronger opinions than the undergraduates and are most likely to think that they will start their own businesses followed by Commerce respondents. MBA respondents are the most open-minded about what constitutes entrepreneurship: they need not be inventors, and businesses can be bought or franchised and still be entrepreneurial. They are also least likely to agree that entrepreneurs will do anything for a profit and this may have something to do with the emphasis placed on ethics, governance and sustainability in MBA programmes since the collapse of Enron. Generally, all respondents were not exposed to entrepreneurship ideas either at high school or at university, with MBA respondents having the least exposure at high school and the most exposure at university.

For MBA respondents, the low exposure to entrepreneurship at school-level may have been due to the curriculum focus, during the period they attended school. High school counsellors may have changed their approach in the more recent past, giving the topic of entrepreneurship more of a focus in the curriculum covered at school. At university level, the nature of the MBA degree results in more exposure, as one would expect.

The results also compare the perceptions of respondents whose parents own businesses to those who do not, parents who are educated to those who are not, and compared respondents who did and did not earn pocket money while they were in school 5. Respondents whose parents own businesses do not differ greatly from those whose parents do not. Both groups are equally likely to start their own businesses, although respondents whose parents own businesses are more likely to have seriously considered the option.

As regards parental education, respondents differ significantly on only a few variables. The more educated the parents, the less likely they are to start their own businesses although, on average, all groups agree that they will do so. Respondents whose parents have tertiary education seem more flexible with respect to their definition of entrepreneurship, and are least likely to agree that entrepreneurs are almost always inventors. They are also the least likely to believe that entrepreneurs will do anything to make a profit. There is no consistent difference in student perceptions when analysing responses related to parents' level of education.

Although there are significant differences for various questions and groups, there does not appear to be much of a pattern. One is tempted to conclude that parental education may not greatly influence how university students perceive entrepreneurship. Respondents who did not receive pocket money are more likely to consider themselves to be risk-takers, perhaps out of necessity. Those with pocket money are more inclined to think that entrepreneurship is an honourable profession.

Table 6 characterises the parents' incomes in order to determine whether income has an effect on entrepreneurship perceptions. Respondents from both the poorest and richest households are most likely to think that they will start their own businesses. As discussed above, it may be that poorer respondents are thinking about more basic enterprises whilst richer ones are thinking about innovative startups.

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Yet poorer respondents are more inclined to think that business owners will do anything to make a profit while believing that it is not necessarily true that they may earn more money working for a company. Respondents in the lowest two income groups are least likely to feel that it is too risky to start their own business and are correspondingly most likely to believe that they are risk-takers. Interestingly, respondents in the highest two income groups are least likely to believe that entrepreneurship is a financially viable option while those in the lowest two income groups are most likely to believe this.

However, all the respondents, except those in the highest income group would prefer to work for a large company, believing that there would be better career opportunities. Only the highest income group disagreed with that statement. This suggests that poorer respondents may see entrepreneurship as a necessity, perhaps indicating some doubt about their ability to find a job working for a business.

On the other hand, the richest respondents may have more confidence about finding jobs in large companies and may see entrepreneurship as more of a risky choice. Respondents from these differing income groups may have different perceptions about what constitutes owning their own business.

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Richer respondents are thus less likely to believe that owning a franchise or buying a business is not entrepreneurship. The results obtained from breaking down responses by income group are closely related to those broken down by race group when acknowledging that respondents from the wealthiest income groups are likely to be White while those from the poorest group are likely to be Black.

Overall, respondents from the poorest two groups appear to be the most positive about starting their own businesses and also appear to have access to more information. Table 7 shows the differences between respondents who had a part-time job whilst at school or at university and those who did not as well as the difference between those who took business related subjects and those who did not.

Respondents with early exposure to financial responsibility are more likely to think that they will start their own businesses. They are also more flexible on what constitutes an entrepreneur as well as slightly less inclined to think that entrepreneurs would do anything for a profit. It thus comes as no surprise that these are also the respondents who are more likely to have considered entrepreneurship as a career option and are more likely to consider themselves to be risk-takers.

They are more convinced that entrepreneurship is an honourable profession and less likely to believe that their career prospects are better at a large company. They are also more prone to believe that they have many ideas for business ventures. Respondents with part-time jobs at university are also generally more positive about entrepreneurship than those without jobs and are less likely to think that a tertiary education is necessary to be an entrepreneur.


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Generally, respondents who did not take any business classes seem more optimistic about entrepreneurship. Probing revealed that the perceptions of these respondents had an element of romanticism; many were unaware of what entrepreneurial success and commitment really requires.

Entrepreneurship in Africa: A study of successes

They also seem less inclined to believe that they would have better career prospects working for another company. The reason may be that business classes bias students away from entre-preneurship given that there is not much focus on entrepreneurial content and tend to train students for the existing labour market that is dominated by larger corporations.

The results extracted from this sample of South African students generally reveal that respondents have a very positive attitude towards entrepreneurship. Over 83 per cent of the respondents view entrepreneurship as an honourable profession and respect people who are entrepreneurs. More than half intend starting their own business as soon as possible and see themselves as risk-takers. However, delving further into these results illustrate distinct gender and racial differences with men generally more positively disposed towards entrepreneurship whilst Africans are the most positive and Asians the least positive.

Degree of study, parental income, student work and financial experience all appear to affect perceptions of entrepreneurship. The results reinforce the earlier literature review which emphasised the importance of both individual and social characteristics with regard to entrepreneurial attitudes. Given these generally favourable results, the paper is left with the puzzling question as to why South Africa performs so poorly on international entrepreneurship rankings?

One explanation could be that the sample of university students is automatically more entrepreneurial than less qualified South Africans. However, this contradicts available evidence that university students tend to seek employment in the existing corporate sector. It is evident that although respondents believe entrepreneurship to be an honourable occupation and can imagine themselves running their own businesses, they are nonetheless attracted by the employment and financial security available in large corporations.

Indeed, over 40 per cent of the sample admits that they would prefer to work in large companies because of better career prospects with a further third being neutral, and less than 28 per cent disagreeing with the desire to work for a large company. It could be that currently students have a more idealistic view as one would expect at that age , but when they enter the 'real' world then the realities become enmeshed with risk aversion and overshadow these perceptions, rendering entrepreneurial activities largely defunct. This paper uses a cross sectional approach to entrepreneurial attitudes and behaviours and as such cannot look at the dynamics of these perceptions nor can it determine any causal influences.


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A longitudinal study which follows these respondents over time as they leave university and enter the workforce would yield useful insights about how their perceptions change and how their perceptions match up with their actual employment choices. Furthermore, there have been great advances in the area of behavioural and experimental economics which would be useful for testing some of these results. An obvious extension would be the analysis of risk aversion through experiments and the use of real world incentives.

The paper demonstrates that socio-economic, demographic, cultural and institutional variables are associated with the entrepreneurial attitudes of individuals. This has interesting potential implications for the policy realm where the South African government has spent enormous resources in trying to stimulate entrepreneurship with limited success Herrington et al. Some of the characteristics which have revealed themselves to be significant include race and gender and these are path dependent which government policy cannot alter, but it can play a role in underwriting risk through various types of affirmative action.